By Guy Henderson
Did you try making a phone call when the Big One hit on Tuesday? Those of us here in the MTA Communications & Marketing Department sure did. Trouble was, seconds after the 5.8-on-the-Richter-scale earthquake hit Baltimore yesterday, everyone else was on the phone lines at the same time. No matter how smart our smart phones, they weren’t smart enough to overcome the tsunami of calls attempting to get through. And for people in the communications business, there’s nothing worse than not being able to get the word out – particularly when hundreds of thousands of customers depend on us to know how and whether they’re getting home that night.
Today, we have a new respect for the power of social media. In the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, we Tweeted updates from the streets of downtown less than 45 minutes after the first rumble, once we confirmed information coming in regarding MARC Trains, Metro Subway and Light Rail. (Local Bus and Commuter Service was mostly unaffected.)
Throughout the afternoon and evening, our webmaster checked up on conflicting reports before Tweeting nearly two dozen alerts and Facebook updates. We heard from several sources that those updates were picked up and re-broadcast by a variety of media outlets that depend on us for timeliness and accuracy. This morning we came back to our hastily abandoned offices to find that our number of social media “followers” had grown by more than 200 between yesterday and today.
Now that things are back to a relatively normal state, we’ve had an opportunity to come to some not-so-surprising conclusions.
Safety counts first with customers, just as it does with us. Riders appreciate that it takes a little time to recover when something big happens to affect our transit system. And social media has truly come into its own when it proves easier to use than telephones in times of real emergency.
Thanks for your patience, those of you who were delayed getting home. We appreciate you sticking with the MTA even when things get a little shaken up. In case you missed it, here’s some live – though not very dramatic – footage of what a typical office scene looked like, as the Newark Star Ledger captured the scene. And for a more dramatic look, here’s some footage of major earthquakes in the past, brought to you by National Geographic.